The President's Desk: Andrés Spokoiny

Andrés Spokoiny is President & CEO of Jewish Funders Network. Full bio >>

When Believing Is 'Seeing' (Rosh Hashanah 5783)

The Anton-Babinsky Syndrome has puzzled doctors since antiquity. It’s a rare condition in which the patient has lost vision but is convinced, often quite adamantly and despite clear evidence of their blindness, that they are capable of seeing.

Although neurologists Gabriel Anton and Jean Francois Babinsky wrote about the illness (scientifically called “anosognosia”) in the early 20th century, they were not the first ones to notice it. Seneca, for example, tells the story of an enslaved woman who had become blind but argued that she could see, often describing rooms in great imaginary detail. French Renaissance philosopher Montaigne writes about a similar situation involving a nobleman.

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Mourn the Past, But Build a Better Future (Tisha B'Av 5782)

I thought about Tisha B’Av recently, as I stood in Jerusalem’s Davidson Archeological Park (thank you, William Davidson Foundation!). There, you can walk on the very street that Jews used, 2,000 years ago, to ascend to the Temple of Jerusalem. You can see the remnants of the stairs that led to the Temple entrance though Robinson’s Arch, the oldest overpass in the world, and most poignantly, you can see the stones from the Temple compound that Roman soldiers threw onto the street below as they destroyed the holy site. As if one needed proof, one of those stones is inscribed with the words “lebeit hatoke’a,” meaning, the place from which the shofar was sound in the Temple’s esplanade.

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Shavuot Made Me a Zionist. Here's Why.

Shavuot made me a Zionist.

Well, maybe it wasn’t just Shavuot, but that holiday played an important role. Why? Because when you grow up in the Southern Hemisphere, the Jewish holidays make you keenly aware of being in the wrong place; especially those that, like Shavuot, have a strong seasonal component.

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Zionism Is Our Positive Psychology

The concept of “learned helplessness,” coined by psychologist Martin Seligman, became the cornerstone of his groundbreaking “positive psychology” theory that now helps millions overcome depression and anxiety.

Seligman observed laboratory animals that were subjected to random, unavoidable mild electric shocks. Understanding that whatever they did, regardless of how hard they tried to escape, they were going to be shocked, these animals cowered in lethargy and apathy, simply waiting for the next blow, convinced that there was nothing they could do to avoid it.

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Robots at the Seder Table? Training Ourselves to Be in Community Again (Passover 5782)

Tell me honestly: Are you anticipating your Passover seder with excitement or dread? Do you really want to meet all your long-lost relatives, or would you rather have seder with only the three people you like best? In the amusement-to-annoyance scale, where are the obnoxious comments of Uncle Mort going to land? What’s your patience level for those that say the seder is “too long” or the classic “can we eat already?”

If you find yourself less inclined to deploy the patience needed to deal with other people, you are not alone. In fact, you are part of society-wide decline in the ability, opportunity – and desire – to connect with others. Let’s face it: We do miss physical proximity, but we also understand, more keenly than ever, what Jean-Paul Sartre meant in his famous phrase “hell is other people.”

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Being Decisive in the Face of Uncertainty (2022 Presidential Address)

JFN President and CEO Andrés Spokoiny's presidential address at the JFN 2022 International Conference, delivered in Palm Beach, Fla., on March 27, 2022.

The challenge of our time – said Bertrand Russell – is how to be decisive in the face of uncertainty. Now, I’m by temperament at ease with ambivalence and uncertainty. I generally welcome it, even enjoy it, but having lived through the last couple of years, I feel like the guy having a glass of whiskey on the deck of the Titanic saying, “I know I asked for ice, but this is ridiculous!” But jokes aside, the last couple of years took a toll on my psychological wellbeing.

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The Problem with Kings (Purim 5782)

The synagogue of “El Tránsito” in Toledo, Spain is among the oldest and most beautiful in the world, with a sanctuary displaying magnificent Moorish decorations and gorgeous Hebrew inscriptions. Among the verses and invocations, three words are the largest and more ornamented: “HaMelekh Don Pedro” (The King Don Pedro).

Toledo’s Jews were not alone in their obsequiousness to the reigning monarch. Until modern times, being “close to the king” was considered a good strategy for Jews. He granted them privileges and protected them. In most cases, Jews had nowhere else to turn. Gentiles were enmeshed in a broader order of relationships with fixed rights and duties: nobles with their feudal lieges, serfs with the land, tradesmen with guilds, and all Christians with the Church. The king was, therefore, the only one who could protect the Jews from an often-hostile populace.

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How You Can Help Jews (and Others) in Ukraine

Updated on March 30

We at JFN have been horrified to watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine and are deeply concerned about the amount of human suffering it is unleashing, as well as its implications for democracy, Europe, and the entire world.

Below you will find information and resources for providing assistance to the people of Ukraine, with a particular focus on its Jewish population, which is one of the world’s largest Jewish communities. Many, particularly the elderly, were already struggling and isolated even before their country was plunged into war. 

We encourage you to support Passover for Ukraine, a JFN partnership with UJA-Federation of New York, which we announced at the JFN 2022 International Conference. UJA-Federation is matching all JFN member donations up to $1.25 million. Learn more here and donate here.

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Like Trees in the Forest (Tu Bishvat 5782)

One of the quotes that is repeated the most around the holiday of Tu Bishvat (the “New Year of the Trees) is, “Because Man is like a tree in the forest” (Deuteronomy 20:19). Rabbis in every generation have tried to explain that meaning-rich comparison, and many see that quote at the root (so to speak) of Judaism’s approach to stewardship of the Earth.

But can a tree be compared not to an individual person, but an entire people?

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The Miracle of Small Miracles (Chanukah 5782)

Mythical stories in all cultures, which developed mostly before literacy was common, rely on portentous and unusual images to be memorable: Elijah ascending to Heaven in a chariot of fire; the Red Sea splitting for the Israelites; Jesus walking on water. These images violate the apparent order of things, so once you visualize them, your brain will make sure you remember them for good.

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